Bad Rap on High School Graduation Rates

AP, April 1, 2008

Seventeen of the nation’s 50 largest cities had high school graduation rates lower than 50 percent, with the lowest graduation rates reported in Detroit, Indianapolis and Cleveland, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report, issued by America’s Promise Alliance, found that about half of the students served by public school systems in the nation’s largest cities receive diplomas. Students in suburban and rural public high schools were more likely to graduate than their counterparts in urban public high schools, the researchers said.

Nationally, about 70 percent of U.S. students graduate on time with a regular diploma and about 1.2 million students drop out annually.

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Summit in every state planned

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The report found troubling data on the prospects of urban public high school students getting to college. In Detroit’s public schools, 24.9 percent of the students graduated from high school, while 30.5 percent graduated in Indianapolis Public Schools and 34.1 percent received diplomas in the Cleveland Municipal City School District.

Researchers analyzed school district data from 2003-2004 collected by the U.S. Department of Education. To calculate graduation rates, the report estimated the likelihood that a 9th grader would complete high school on time with a regular diploma. Researchers used school enrollment and diploma data, but did not use data on dropouts as part of its calculation.

Many metropolitan areas also showed a considerable gap in the graduation rates between their inner-city schools and the surrounding suburbs. Researchers found, for example, that 81.5 percent of the public school students in Baltimore’s suburbs graduate, compared with 34.6 percent in the city schools.

In Ohio, nearly 83 percent of public high school students in suburban Columbus graduate while 78.1 percent in suburban Cleveland earn their diplomas, well above their local city schools.

Disparity in data

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States calculate their graduation rates using all sorts of methods, many of which critics say are based on unreliable information about school dropouts. Under No Child Left Behind, states may use their own methods of calculating graduation rates and set their own goals for improving them.

The research was conducted by Editorial Projects in Education, a Bethesda, Md., nonprofit organization, with support from America’s Promise Alliance and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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[Editor’s Note: “Cities in Crisis: A Special Analytic Report on High School Graduation” can be read or downloaded here.]

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